Lesbian pastor moves closer to church trial

Lesbian pastor moves closer to church trial

4/6/2016

By Kathy L. Gilbert and Heather Hahn
April 5, 2016 | (UMNS)

The Rev. Cynthia Meyer moved a step closer to a church trial after she and Bishop Scott Jones failed to agree on a just resolution to the complaint that she is a “self-avowed, practicing” homosexual.

One option the Great Plains Conference bishop offered Meyer was that Edgerton United Methodist Church, where she is now pastor, could withdraw from the denomination and retain Meyer as pastor in a new denomination.

Meyer rejected that choice.

“I thought that was a surprising and disappointing request. That he would want those who disagree with the formal position of the church to simply leave the denomination was troubling,” Meyers told United Methodist News Service.

“Certainly, on that point I knew this was not anything I would willingly accept or sign. It does not seem to me to be just.”

She also rejected a proposal to delay the proceedings until after the 2016 General Conference votes on human sexuality petitions during the May 10-20 international conference in Portland, Oregon.

Delegates will consider more than 70 proposals on whether to confirm or rewrite the denomination’s biblical understanding of human sexuality.

The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s book of policy and teachings, since 1972 has proclaimed that all individuals are of sacred worth but the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Church law lists being a “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy member and officiating at same-sex unions among the denomination’s chargeable offenses.

Only General Conference can change these church policies.

“While many persons within The United Methodist Church disagree with the rule that says persons who are self-avowed, practicing homosexuals may not be ordained and may not be appointed as pastors, the rule is currently in effect,” Bishop Jones said. “Rev. Meyer’s sermon prompted the supervisory response, the attempt to find an agreed-upon just resolution and this referral to Church counsel, as outlined in the Book of Discipline.”

Jones has referred the complaint to the Rev. David Bell as counsel for the church. The counsel is responsible for compiling relevant materials in the case and acting as a sort of church prosecutor.

Meyer told her congregation at Edgerton United Methodist Church in a Jan. 3 sermon that she is a woman who loves and shares my life with another woman.” Meyer has served since July as pastor of this semi-rural church, about 40 miles from Kansas City, Kansas.

In her considerations for a just resolution she said she wanted to “continue to serve faithfully as an appointed, ordained elder in The United Methodist Church.”

She acknowledged she is in a committed relationship with a woman but said she believes the Book of Discipline’s paragraph 2702.1b violates the “foundational Wesleyan spirit of the General Rules, paragraph 104, ‘to do no harm, do good, and obey the ordinances of God.’”

What happens now

After the counsel for the church compiles the relevant materials and drafts a judicial complaint, the next step would be a review by a seven-member committee on investigation — sort of the United Methodist version of a grand jury. The committee would include four clergy and three lay members.

The Book of Discipline has no specific timeline for the work of a counsel or that of the committee.

The committee can dismiss if members decide there is not enough evidence to bring charges. If five or more members of the committee on investigation recommend it, the bishop may suspend a clergy person from all clergy duties pending the outcome of the judicial process. At least five committee members must vote that Meyer be charged for a trial to proceed.

If the committee files charges, Jones would then appoint a presiding officer, a retired bishop who would serve as a judge.

The Book of Discipline says trials should be regarded as “an expedient of last resort.” Under church law, a resolution without trial remains an option throughout the process.

Meanwhile, Meyer will continue to serve Edgerton United Methodist Church.

Looking to May

Meyer said the next developments for her will probably not happen until after the 2016 General Conference.

“I'm glad I will be there (at General Conference) for part of it. I try to live in hope. I don’t know really what to expect but I am always hopeful the church will move forward in greater inclusivity, welcome, care for all and involvement of all in every aspect of church life.”

Meyers said she appreciates all the support she has received and hopes people will speak out on this issue.

“I hope more people will speak out in ways that are appropriate to them. I think that really is vital if we are to move forward in a spirit of love and justice.

Meanwhile, Meyer will continue to serve Edgerton United Methodist Church.

Bishop Jones asks that people “keep Rev. Meyer, Edgerton United Methodist Church and the Great Plains Conference in your prayers.”

Gilbert and Hahn are multimedia news reporters for United Methodist News Service. Contact Gilbert at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. Some information for this story was provided from the Great Plains United Methodist Conference.